From a friend on Facebook.
Today is a sad day in U.S. history. One of the saddest for me. I’ve spent the last nine years working with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Nine years of interviewing refugees across the globe. Nine years of conducting security checks, making credibility determinations, and protecting the integrity of this program along with my dedicated colleagues.
When I hear people speak out that these people are dangerous, that we have to keep them out of our country, there are a number of images that flash through my head.
I think of the young girl who was taken off her school bus with other girls from the same religion. Who was held for weeks and later gave birth to a fatherless child. Who, when released, was forced to flee through a war zone by herself to a neighboring country without a penny to her name. The interpreter and I cried throughout the interview, but she, at 16, was stronger than both of us.
I think of the man who volunteered as an interpreter for the U.S. military in April 2003 because he was hopeful for the future of his country. A man who sobbed uncontrollably throughout the interview because, as a result of this decision, he later found his five-year-old son’s tortured body at his front gate.
I think of the man who spoke out against his government and, as a result, was electrocuted so many times that he was unable to recognize his wife of twenty years on the day he was released.
I think of the countless children who, when asked why they want to go to the United States, respond that they want to be able to go to school. Because they haven’t been to school in years. Because their parents are too afraid for their safety to allow them to leave the house.
These individuals needed our protection. The United States offered them shelter. A safe place to live, where they could feel truly human again. Admittedly this was an offer that was only open to a very few, but for the most vulnerable, the most needing of our protection, we have been there. Until recently, this was never an issue of party politics. Support for refugees came from all sides. It was understood that the United States was a haven for those fleeing persecution. That this country was founded on the principle that all people have the right to life. The right to liberty. Fundamental rights that had been taken away from certain individuals and groups who deserve our unwavering support.
But unfortunately those times are changing. We are now a country that shuts our doors. A country of knee jerk reactions and off the cuff tweets. I have felt desolate all day, but I’m trying to hold out a tiny bit of hope. Hope that this will be temporary. Hope that this will lead people to educate themselves on the issue. Hope that maybe, just maybe, people will take the time to meet and talk to someone who has been forced to flee their country without a single possession before speaking out against them.
And so I leave you with the Emma Lazarus quote that, not so long ago, was considered so fundamental to our American identity that it was carved onto one of our most famous monuments. In the hope that one day the tides will change and we will once again lift up our lamps and open wide our doors.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”